Scholar Interviews

How do you teach the letters found in Adam Michnik's book?


I try to adjust myself to the interest of my students. I’m trying to see what they are particularly interested in. And I think this is an appealing book. I start actually with the second part, because the second part explains very well the first part. In the second part he’s in prison and he looks into or he is between two prison terms, and he looks for instance into the experience of the Prague Spring and Marxist revisionism and reformists from above. So in other words, in order to understand what happened in Poland after 1980, the strategies that the Polish dissidents developed after, basically after 1975, ‘76, one needs to understand the lessons they drew from the defeat of the Prague Spring.

They understood that as long as there is a Moscow Center, and in Moscow those who were in power would not allow for any kind of experimentation or any kind of permissiveness and relaxation within the Bloc. Basically the free citizens or the citizens who aspire or yearn to be free in the Soviet Bloc countries, Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia, you name it, GDR, would have to create their own niches of freedom, would have to create alternative spaces of freedom, enclaves of freedom. And then they will operate within the existing system in such a way as to create a counterculture, a counter system. They even used the term “counterculture.”

So I start with the second part, and then we look into some Polish history. I’m looking very much at democratization and how the systems, the old system, came to an end, what forces brought the old system to the end and what forces basically emerged as alternatives to the old political establishment. And therefore so we move from the second part to the first part, and the first part is about Solidarity and how Solidarity came into being.

I bring the story of the Catholic Church. I bring the relationship into the discussion, the relationship between the Catholic Church and the liberal left. Among other things one of the great contributions of Adam Michnik is a book which is called The Church and the Left, which he wrote in the 1970s. He always described himself as a man of the left. I think he still considers himself a man of the left. He always likes to say ironically that he situates himself at the extreme right of the left which is, you know, a funny way of saying, “I’m still on the left.”

How to Cite

Vladimir Tismaneanu, interview, "How do you teach the letters found in Adam Michnik's book?" Making the History of 1989, Item #615, (accessed November 18 2017, 8:44 am).